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LIV and PGA war takes a back seat as Masters takes centre stage

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Augusta – Saudi-backed LIV Golf’s feud with the PGA Tour was set aside by players at Monday’s first practice for the 87th Masters, but LIV boss Greg Norman hopes for a fiery finish on Sunday.

Reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith and two-time major winner Dustin Johnson were among LIV players receiving a warm welcome from PGA rivals at Augusta National.

“Lots of laughs, lots of handshakes and it was really nice,” Smith said of his one-hour workout. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to expect walking onto the range but it was good to see some familiar faces and lot of smiles.”

Australian Smith said the reception was important for the sport.

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“There’s too much rubbish going on… I don’t think there’s any kind of hatred going on between the players. We’re all happy where we are and I’m just as happy for the guys winning on the PGA Tour as I am for LIV golfers.”

Johnson, the 2016 US Open and 2020 Masters winner who took LIV’s 2022 individual crown, went around with US countrymen Kevin Kisner, Brian Harman and Gary Woodland.

“It’s nice to see a lot of the guys because I haven’t seen them all that much,” Johnson said. “For me it’s the same. All my buddies are still my buddies and we play and it’s still golf. So it doesn’t matter where you play at.”

But Norman, LIV Golf’s chief executive officer, said he had “goosebumps” thinking one of 18 LIV players who qualified for the Masters would win the green jacket and be greeted by 17 colleagues at Sunday’s final hole.

“If one of our guys wins, no matter who it is, they are all going to be there on the 18th green and that just gives me goosebumps to think about,” Norman told NewsCorp. in a weekend interview.

“To have those 17 other guys there, that’s the spirit we want. That’s what these guys talk about. They’re saying no matter who wins, no matter who is in that position, we’re going to be there.”

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, who won Sunday’s LIV Golf title in Orlando, agreed the rebels would show a united front on 18.

“If one of the LIV players does win, it’ll be definitely a huge statement for LIV,” Koepka said. “If one of the guys does, I would be shocked if all of us aren’t there.”

Smith, however, didn’t get the memo.

“There definitely hasn’t been a conversation with me,” Smith said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen.

“I’d love to see one of us guys get up to the top of the leaderboard and really give it a nice shot.”

Johnson said his preparation hasn’t been compromised playing 54-hole LIV events.

“I’m going to be ready,” Johnson said. “If I’m playing how I should, I’ll be right there at the end.”

LIV’s Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open champion, called his reception “unbelievable.”

“The fans were awesome,” he added. “They were saying the same stuff they would say if I was on the other side.”

American Kevin Na would enjoy a tour fight to the end.

“If you have a LIV versus PGA Tour coming down the stretch, it’ll be fun.”

Tiger ‘looks good’

Top-ranked defending champion Scottie Scheffler could become only the fourth player to win the Masters in back-to-back years, joining US compatriots Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus and England’s Nick Faldo.

Second-ranked Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner from Northern Ireland, would complete a career Grand Slam with a victory, joining Woods, Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan as a champion at all four majors.

McIlroy and Spain’s third-ranked Jon Rahm, who has won three PGA Tour titles this year, could each overtake Scheffler atop the rankings with a victory.

Woods, the 15-time major winner still struggling with severe leg injuries suffered in a 2021 car crash, played a practice round with McIlroy, Fred Couples and South Korean Tom Kim.

“I think he’ll be fine,” Couples said of Woods. “He’s hitting it really strong and solid and he looks good.

“The leg, I don’t know how much better it’s ever going to get… But he’s strong enough to hit it a mile.”

AFP

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